Attorneys who contend that a referendum on a $1 billion hydropower transmission project is unconstitutional asked a Superior Court judge on Wednesday to remove the question from the November ballot.

The lawsuit contends the Maine Constitution links referendums to legislative acts, not agency decisions. It also contends the referendum violates the state constitution’s separation of powers.

The secretary of state largely agrees on the constitutional issue but suggested keeping the matter on the ballot as an advisory referendum.

John Armando, attorney for Central Maine Power’s corporate parent, urged Justice Thomas Warren to grant an injunction to stop the referendum to avoid misleading people into thinking their votes will effect change.

But Paul Hughes, who argued for retaining the referendum, urged the judge not to invalidate the efforts of more than 66,000 people who signed petitions for a statewide vote on the project.

Attorneys agree that that the matter will be headed to the state supreme court regardless of how the judge rules.

The referendum was originally envisioned as giving voters the final say on the New England Clean Energy Connect, which already received approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Land Use Planning Commission and Maine Public Utilities Commission.

The project calls for construction of a 145-mile high-voltage power line from Mount Beattie Township on the Canadian border to the regional power grid in Lewiston, Maine. Most of the project would follow existing utility corridors, but a new path would have to be cut through 53 miles of wilderness.

Hydro Quebec would supply the energy that supporters say would reduce carbon pollution and stabilize utility rates.

Critics say the environmental benefits are overstated and the project would spoil part of Maine’s North Woods.

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